Christian Radio and Phil Keaggy’s Voice

Last night on the way home from a trio recording session, I heard a Phil Keaggy song on the local Christian radio station.

I listen to Christian radio about as often as I listen to NPR or the contemporary rock station — maybe a little over half the times I’m in the car, which is only once or twice a week.

I think a lot of stuff being sent over the Christian airwaves is mediocre. On the other hand I don’t think there’s anything really wrong with mediocre music. Even bad music — off key, band not together rhythmically, bad sound engineering, ridiculous rhymes — can move someone to worship, reveal a glimpse of truth and light, or otherwise be used by and be glorifying to God.

Wasn’t it Chesterton that said that if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly? Not that we should stop striving to do our best and to increase our skills so that our best becomes better, but that music and other great things should not be forbidden to anyone just because their skills or talents are less than perfect.

Sometimes, though, I hear stuff I think is really wonderful. On the way to this recording session, I heard one that not only had a cool meandering lyrical structure, but this chorus:

And here by the water
I’ll build an altar to praise Him
Out of the stones that I’ve found here
I’ll set them down here
Rough as they are
Knowing You can make them holy

Turns out this song is called “Here by the Water,” written by Jim Croegaert and also coverd by Steve Bell. I also like Sara Groves, FFH (no official site — fan site has automatic music.), Third Day, Jars of Clay (annoyed — their site requires Flash), Randy Stonehill, and Phil Keaggy, although these last two are played only rarely for some reason.

Besides lyrical content and structure, besides good arrangements and production using real instruments, I appreciate certain voices. I think it’s fascinating how people’s singing voices vary: high to low, clear to gravelly, straight to ornamented*. I like a variety of types. Phil Keaggy’s voice is completely different from the lead singer of Third Day’s. The Third Day guy is definitely on the low gravelly straight up side, and Phil Keaggy is more towards the high, clear, and a little ornamented. I like both.

It’s interesting how certain things sometimes move me more when they take me by surprise. I play my dulcimer all the time and have a shelf of dulcimer recordings, but when I hear a dulcimer tune on a folk radio show it’s like being captivated all over again. Or I’m not going to go out to the symphony any time soon, but if I catch a PBS broadcast, I might just watch and listen and enjoy it. Likewise I only occasionally pull out my Phil Keaggy CD (self-titled) or put one of his tapes in the car (Find Me in These Fields or one of the instrumental ones), but hearing him last night was just a little like having an old friend call — hearing that familiar and beloved voice once again.

Funny how we can describe someone we’ve never met as “familiar and beloved.” I’m sort of glad that I’m so completely unlikely to ever meet Phil Keaggy, because I wouldn’t know how to act. What do you do when you first meet someone whose work you love, but who you don’t know at all, and who doesn’t know you at all and has no connection at all to your own work? You don’t want to gush flattery, nor do you want to act like he means nothing to you, nor suggest that he should find you interesting because you like him so much, but what instead? Especially when such a meeting is likely to be a one-time thing if it happens at all, so different rules must apply than the ones that govern the way we meet people we might become friends with.

So far I’ve only met one “celebrity”; I couldn’t seem to help being a bit on the gushy side.

*(It’s a little hard to describe what I mean by this straight / ornamented distinction. Straight doesn’t vary in pitch or inflection or do little turns and slides and such. Ornamented might do one or more of those things. An opera singer’s voice is usually ornamented; a boy choir soloist’s voice is usually straight.)

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